We’re like the water

We’ve got mud here people. It’s official.

And never has a girl been so happy to see this slop and slush and muck. I’ve have enthusiastically switched from snowshoes and boots with three inch insulation to those of a muck variety and I have no intention of dodging or jumping or leaping over any puddles or rushing streams.

I have every intention of stepping in as much of the stuff as I can.

Because we have mud people.

We have mud and blue skies

and a bug on my backpack

and magic sunshine that is turning those white drifts into rivers in places rivers only exist for a few short days during this time of year.

The time between winter and the full on sprouting, buzzing heat wave of spring. The time where the snow still peeks through the trees, the wind still puts a flush in your cheeks, birds are still planning their flights back home and the crocuses haven’t quite popped through the dirt.

My favorite time of year.

When I was a little girl I lived for the big meltdown. My parent’s home is located in a coulee surrounded by cliffs of bur oak and brush where a creek winds and babbles and bubbles and cuts through the banks. And that creek absolutely mystified me. It changed all the time, depending on rainfall, sunshine and the presence of beavers or cattle.

In the summer it was lively enough, home to bugs that rowed and darted on the surface of the water and rocks worn smooth by the constant movement of the stream flowing up to the big beaver dam I would hike to daily. In the typical North Dakota fall it became a ribbon carrying on and pushing through oak leaves and acorns that had fallen in its path. In winter it slowed down and slept while I shoveled it’s surface to make room for twists and turns on my ice skates.

But in the meltdown it was magical. It rushed. It raged. It widened in the flat spaces and cut deep ravines where it was forced to squeeze on through. It showed no mercy. It had to get somewhere. It had to open up. It had to move and jump and soak up the sun and wave to the animals waking up.

And I would follow it. I would become obsessed. I would step out on the back deck and at the first sound of water moving in the silence of our backyard I would pull on my boots and get out there to meet it, to walk with it, to search for the biggest waterfalls and gawk at how it would scream out of its banks and marvel at how it changed.

I would be out there for hours.  Around every bend was something a little more amazing–a fallen log to cross, a narrow cut to jump over, a place to test the water-proof capacity of my green boots. The creek runs through multiple pastures on the place and as long as the daylight would allow I would move right along with it for the miles it skipped along and then return home soaked and flushed and refreshed and completely and utterly exhausted.

And then I would do the same thing the next day. Because even as a kid I knew this magical time was fleeting. I knew the creek wouldn’t always act this outrageously marvelous so I had to get out there…because someone had to see this. And at that time, and still to this day, there are places on that creek that very few people have ever been.

But I was one of them. I was one of them and that creek was performing for me.  Oh, I remember feeling so secret. So special and lucky to have this show in my backyard. And although I loved summer and all the warmth and sunshine and green grass it brought with it, I never wanted this early spring witching hour to end.

I vividly remember a dream I had about the creek when I was about 10 or 11. I dreamed the creek behind my house was huge, like a river you would find in the mountains–a river I had yet to discover at that time. The landscape the creek wound through was the same in real life as it was in my dream–the oaks and the raspberries existed there–but the water was warmer and crystal clear and it pooled up at the bottom of huge and gentile waterfalls that rolled over miles of smooth rocks and fluffy grass. And I was out in it with friends I had never met before as an adult woman with long legs and arms and we were swimming in its water and letting the current push us over the waterfalls and along the bottom of the creek bed until we landed  in the deep water where we would float for a while and then launch ourselves out for another run. And we were laughing and screaming with anticipation for where that water was going to take us. But we were never afraid. We were never cold or worrying about getting home for dinner or what our bodies looked like in our bathing suits.

We were free. I was free. And the water was rushing.

We may never know if there is a heaven while we are here on this very volatile and fragile earth, but that there could be that much water and that much power and change rolling through our backyards and then one day we wake up to find that it has just quietly moved on and out and along still mystifies me to this day.

That there are snowbanks that fly in with the burning chill of winter’s wind and reach up over my head and stay for months on end only to  disappear in one day with the quiet strength of the sun is extraordinary for lack of a more powerful word.

That the water in my creek is made from the snow that fell from the sky in early November and is currently rushing around the trees, settling in hoof prints, being lapped up by coyotes and splashed in by geese and sinking in the earth and changing it forever is something that makes me believe in something.

…like perhaps we are like that drop that fell from above,  afraid of the mystery that was waiting for us as we hurtled through the atmosphere only to find when we finally hit the earth that we are not one drop alone in this world…

…we are the water.

The extraordinary ones…

The coulees that dot the landscape on the ranch are mystical places that I spent my entire childhood exploring. Each season they changed, and each year when I returned after a long winter, I found something new.

I walked them today again for the first time in several years and I was taken right back to the magic I feel they possess. I believe that the curious, the brave and special people that take the time to pick apart this prairie and get to the roots of the rough places give themselves a gift of beauty and life and discovery, losing themselves in a mystery like nothing else.

And so when I returned, I wrote….

There are secrets out here at the ranch that not many have explored. These secrets are quiet and hidden and full of magical life that only a watchful, imaginative eye can detect. This magic is not that far off the beaten path and most people, the ordinary people, never even turn a head or give this world a glance as they kick up dust from the tires of their SUVs.

But the special ones, they are curious. The special ones listen. They stand deathly still at the side of the road and hold their breath to hear through the wind and the traffic and the barking dogs. They lift a hand to shield their eyes and carefully take a step off the gravel—one step into the world. And then the brave ones take another and another…

Because they think they can hear something faintly calling to them saying, “hello up there” from way down below, under the tangle of grasses and cactus, along the base of trees, where the roots peek out from under the damp earth. So the curious ones, the ones who listen, move their eyes from the horizon and follow the call from the ground. Their feet bravely urge them to move from the top of the hills among the safety of the open prairie to the mysterious, damp, dark and prickly gullies of the surrounding coulees and creek beds.

They take in the panoramic view of cattails springing up like furry corn-dogs bouncing and bending on frail sticks in the breeze, congregating together under the care of the world’s largest street fair vendor. So the special ones are called to take a step a little closer and the smell of the marsh fills their nostrils as the once solid ground gives way to the dark mud under the reeds. And the water seeps into the brave one’s shoes.

A little startled, they look down and decide that soggy feet may be a small price to pay, because they’re on to something here. They need to get to the other side, to the trail that cuts along the creek that runs, uncommonly, up the banks of the ravine on a hot August day.

They wobble and slosh their way, deeper in, and with each step the voices get a bit louder, coaxing them to look down to the mushrooms and moss multiplying and spreading on the bark of the bur oak. The brave ones bend down to run their fingers along it, to feel the sponge of the mushroom’s fragile skin. Some might take a look underneath the caps of the fungus, not feeling at all silly at this point about making sure the stories of the fairies and the elves aren’t true. And they will be a little disappointed, really, to find, when they look, there is nothing there but a couple gnats…

And the curious ones have their eyes open enough to sense a soft rippling on the surface of the creek as the water bugs zip and glide and row and skim across the water. The brave ones feel the urge to jump in and splash with them, but don’t want to disturb the frail bugs.

Because, if not the fairies or the elves, maybe they are the ones who have called them here…

And when the voices (whoever they are) are drowned out by the buzzing of the mosquitoes and the air gets cooler and damper as the brush thickens up again along the path, even the brave ones can’t take it —they want to see the sky again, to see how the time has passed and how far they have gone. So they claw their way up the steep banks the creek has cut. They want to run to the top of the hill, but their legs are not meant to go so fast at times like these. Something slows them and they crouch to see how the tall grass looks against the overcast sky. They stand up and stretch their limbs to taste the ripe plumbs at the very tips of the thorny branches. The sweet juice pops in their mouths.

The curious ones bend down low to skim the vines for the rare red raspberries and wild strawberries underneath the mangle of green and they tiptoe along the juniper spreading up through the rocks and watch for the poison ivy that has, until the voices, deterred them from coming here.

And in their drunken wonderment, mouths puckered from sucking on the pits of wild berries and foreheads wrinkled from really seeing the small things, they are all surprised that the road has found them again, somehow.

Turning their heads back over their shoulder, they are bewildered by the look of it all from far away.

The trees put their arms around each other, moving so close together they all become one, the wind blows through the reeds, the grass stands up straight, the wild sunflowers spread open their smiles and everything (except the water who hides itself away, not so good at goodbyes) seems to wave at the brave and curious and special ones as they make their way home.

And the extraordinary people say a quiet word of thanks to the voices whispering their secrets, because the small world they thought they knew, the one they thought had belonged only to them, had become quite large indeed.

And after all that magic, it never looked the same again.